New bill could be trouble for Texas poker clubs

Texas Poker Clubs Legislation
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A single word could present a big problem for the growing number of Texas poker clubs. A bill pre-filed by five-term state representative Gene Wu seeks to amend the language of the penal code to clarify where private poker games can be played.

The current language allows for poker games where no one profits beyond their own personal winnings, there is a level playing field, and the game takes place in a private establishment. Wu seeks to clarify that these games can only take place in private residences.

Should the bill gain traction and pass, it would put a stop to the rapidly proliferating “private” poker clubs in the state. These clubs charge a membership fee in exchange for entry and food and beverage service. These establishments are private in name only, as anyone can sign up for a membership. These rooms also advertise for new customers, run livestreams of cash games within the club, and regularly run tournaments drawing hundreds of entrants. Several have cropped up near Wu’s home district in Houston.

Wu seeks to use the words “residence” and “dwelling” in place of more vague terms like “place” or “establishment” to clarify and narrow the scope of what kind of poker games can operate within the state.

The new law would not work retroactively, and any club operating before it was to go into effect would not be impacted.

Like the proposed piece of sports betting legislation in Texas, this bill has a long path to potentially becoming law. There are hundreds of pre-filed bills for the Texas legislature to consider this year. Wu is a more seasoned legislator. He is also a privately practicing attorney who has previously served as a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

Additionally, there do seem to be some questions about the legality of these clubs. Just last month, police raided Watauga Social Lounge, confiscating over $200,000 in equipment and cash, writing almost 50 individual citations in the process. The Dallas area is a particularly contentious town for the legality of these rooms. With so much uncertainty around the legality of these clubs, the legislation could get a push to create a sense of clarity throughout the state.

The Texas legislative session gets underway on Jan. 11.